Here’s the final installment in our 101 outdoor activities for families series. Every idea in here is designed to be simple, fun and cheap – so we hope they inspire some exciting adventures!
It ended up taking a lot longer than the planned five weeks to write this series, but that’s because we realised there were so many cool things to do outdoors that we’ve actually been out there doing them instead of sitting indoors writing about them!
81. Ride a balance bike
If your kids are still young enough not to have graduated to full-on pedal power, a balance bike is a brilliant way for them to find their way on two wheels. My son’s been fully mobile on his balance bike since he turned two years old in April, and he mastered the technique in just a couple of weeks. Now Sonny rides to nursery on his balance bike every day, slaloming along the pavement with either one of both feet off the ground. We take it everywhere with us now – parks, woods, town centres, river paths – and it means we can actually get places quickly instead of being slowed down by tiny toddler footsteps.
82. Make a bee house
OK, I’ll confess we bought one of these rather than building one, but I still think they’re a wonderful addition to any family garden. Solitary bees don’t live in hives like honey bees, they make their own nests and lay eggs in tunnels like dead wood or hard soil. Spring’s a great time to introduce one to your garden – we’ve got one hanging on our shed near a wildflower patch – and you’ll be amazed how quickly adult females take up residence with bellies full of pollen. Sonny asks to go and “see the sleeping bees” every evening, so I lift him up to look for tell-tale signs of snoozing bees in the little tubes. Search for bee houses and hotels online if you want to buy one, or use this handy guide from the RSPB to make your own bee B&B.
83. Build a dam
I’m not talking about major construction projects like the Hoover Dam here, just getting into a shallow stream or river and knocking together a makeshift dam from rocks and sticks. It’s a great way for kids to cool off on hot days, work as a team to re-channel some flowing water, get their minds ticking over with a bit of puzzle-solving, and for you to teach them some new skills along the way. And if they think it’s too much like hard work, remind them that tiny beavers build big dams by chopping trees down with their teeth!
84. Go looking for birds nests
When I say go looking for birds nests, I don’t mean get up close to them and start prying inside with your fingers. This is purely about showing children where, how and why birds build nests; and if you’re lucky enough to see a mother sitting on her eggs it’s a really memorable experience. We’ve had blue tits nesting in the bird boxes on our house in the past, plus wood pigeons setting up home in the silver birch trees in our garden. Two of my favourite ever childhood wildlife memories were finding kingfisher nests dug into a riverbank on a family canoe trip, and seeing a female osprey feeding her chicks at the RSPB’s Loch Garten nature reserve. All it takes is a little bit of research and patience, and you could give yourself and your kids a trip they’ll remember forever.
85. Host a mini Olympics
Organised chaos is the best way to do this. Invent a bunch of stupid garden games – running races, obstacle courses, rounders tournaments, crazy golf skipping competitions, water balloon throwing etc – then pick a couple of teams and turn it into a tournament. Make some medals and get a few cheesy prizes for everyone who competes, and you’ll have an awesome time.
86. Make a bow and arrow set
I’m definitely not manly enough to have a made a good one of these yet, but my dad whittled a brilliant bow for me from a tree branch that he found in our garden when I was a kid and I treasured it for years. He made me a few blunt arrows too, then cut open an empty washing up liquid bottle and attached it to my back with string to make a quiver. Then I spent endless weekends hunting our dog and cat around the garden pretending to be Robin Hood!
87. Spot some fish
Sometimes I forget how easily impressed/obsessed kids are by almost everything. Take fish for example. Ever since he first watched Finding Nemo, Sonny’s been obsessed by the slippery little critters, so now we look for them everywhere. In the river, in our neighbour’s pond, in the lakes behind our house, in the sea on holiday, and even in the fish tanks at our local garden centre. We bumped into our old neighbour while he was fishing recently and Sonny saw him catch two small perch, and was absolutely fascinated. He even got to touch their scales then wave them off when they were put back in the water. One little mind officially blown.
88. Find a great walking stick
Nothing turns a boring walk into an exciting expedition more than finding a legendary walking stick. You know the type I mean – something knotty and gnarled that’s taller than you are and makes you look like a mix between Bear Grylls and Gandalf.
89. Do some wood carvings
We got an new interesting book recently called Easy Wood Carving for Children. My crazy little toddler’s definitely too young to be unleashed on a piece of wood with a pen knife, but this is a great little hobby for adventurous kids. The book includes loads of great ideas for wood carvings, 180 colour illustrations and step-by-step instructions, and gives superb inspiration for parents wanting to whittle some wood with their children. Perfect for camping trips or lazy afternoons in the garden.
90. Walk barefoot
Last weekend Sonny and I walked for around a mile down our local river on a grassy path, then took off our shoes and went for a paddle in the shallows. We got out, dried our feet, then forgot we’d stashed our shoes inside my bag and strolled most of the way home barefoot. It sounds simple, it is simple, and it feels fantastic. This is the perfect time of year to do it when it’s warm and dry, but always take care where you’re stomping around to make sure you don’t step on anything spiky!
91. Explore your local woods
If you do down to the woods today… you’ll bloody love it. I’m guilty of always trying to think of a cool faraway places we can drive to as a family at weekends, often forgetting how much cool stuff there is right on our doorstep. We live in a mid-sized town around 10 miles from Cambridge city centre, but we can still be in the middle of wildlife-packed woodlands within 10 minutes of walking out of our front door. We can build dens, climb trees, swim in rivers, make rope swings, play Pooh sticks and spot species ranging from birds and bats to foxes and deer.
92. Build sandcastles
The beauty of this is you don’t even need to go to the beach to build a sandcastle (but of course it’s best if you do). Sonny recently received some ‘magic sand’ as a gift that’s great for making mini sandcastles on our garden table, plus he has his own sand pit that he thrashes about in and throws the contents of all over the garden. But if you want to do it properly, pick a decent weekend of weather, and head to your local beach with a bucket and spade. It’s mega cheap, mega simple, and mega good fun.
93. Go to a water park
Rainy old England has felt more like the Carribbean for a lot of this summer, so for once it hasn’t felt weird to plan a trip to an outdoor water park. There’s a great one at Alton Towers and if you search your local are there are often semi-permanent pop-up water parks that open during the summer months (here’s our local one). Brilliant fun for adults and kids of all ages.
94. Make a rope swing
You need someone who can tie knots and climb trees to help you make a good rope swing, because if you get it wrong someone will be crashing to earth with a bang. But if you get it right, you’ll create an exciting piece of outdoor playground equipment that’s likely to be in a wild location. Extra bonus points if you make one that lets you swing into a river!
95. Go pumpkin picking
You’ll have to wait until October for this, but there’s no better way to get into the Halloween spirit than picking your own pumpkin. We did it last year while visiting family near Liverpool and it was a brilliant day out at a local farm shop. Look up your local pumpkin patch when the spooky time of year comes around again, but here’s a little tip from me: if you want a lot of pumpkins then just go there to have a good day out and then buy them from the supermarket. Because otherwise it’ll cost you a small fortune!
96. Try geocaching
Not as cool as popular as it was a few years ago, but geocaching is still a cool thing to do with your kids. There are millions of geocaches hidden all over the world, and by downloading the official geocaching app to your smartphone you’ll be signing up to the world’s biggest treasure hunt. A quick scan today told me there over 5,000 geocaches in my local area – often small boxes containing little treasures left by other people for you to find. It’s a great way to mix technology with the great outdoors, learn how to navigate to specific locations, and explore your local area.
97. Make a compost heap
Compost heaps are a superb way to dispose of natural waste like grass cuttings, apple cores, onions skins and potato peelings; while also making a useful food supply for bugs and creepy crawlies, and creating your own compost to grow plants with. It’s easier to do than you probably think: all you need is a bit of space in your garden, some pallets, posts, nails and string, and this step-by-step guide from the RSPB.
98. Get a scooter
If your child doesn’t already have one, you’ll definitely have seen them! With options from toddler to teenager and varying wildly in price, scooters are big business and a great way for kids to explore their local area. They’re affordable, easy to use and do the all-important job of encouraging children to get out of the front door and exercising. Even if it only ever gets used on the pavement outside your house, it beats sitting indoors on the XBox.
99. Cut the grass together
For tired and grumpy dads like me, cutting the grass is just another job in a long list of jobs we don’t have time for; but for young kids it seems weirdly exciting. Even more weirdly, I actually remember begging my dad to let me do it for him when I was a kid. Sonny squeals with excitement every time I drag the lawnmower out of the shed, and although he’s still quite wary of going near it when it’s fully powered up and growling, he loves helping me empty the grass when I’m done. As soon as he’s big enough to push it himself, I’m letting him take over!
100. Buy an inflatable dinghy
Thanks to the summer 2018 heatwave I’ve been constantly thinking of new weird and wonderful ways to get our family into the water, and during a day at the brilliant Lammas Land paddling pool in Cambridge recently Sonny’s mum bought the most useful piece of water kit we’ve had for ages. The toddler sized dinghy cost a fiver and made its debut in our local river last week, where I swam along behind and pushed it on a scorching Saturday morning. Dinghies aren’t just limited to toddler sizes of course – you can even get them for adults – and you can use them everywhere from pools and lakes to rivers and the sea. They’re cheap, easy to transport, and loads of fun.
101. Join a campaign or organisation
Sometimes it’s great to join an organised campaign, group or organisation that keeps inspiring and encouraging families and kids to get outside. Luckily for parents in the UK, there are plenty of them. From the Scouts and Guides to Forest Schools and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, there are thousands of volunteers who giving up their time every single day of the year to get kids active outdoors. Below are some great campaigns you can get involved with as a family. We recently took part in 30 Days Wild by the Wildlife Trusts and enjoyed possibly our most adventurous month as a family yet. Hopefully we’ll see you out there next year!
If you missed the first four installments in our 101 Outdoor Activities for Families series then click the links below or subscribe to make sure you never miss a post from The Outdoor Dad.